It’s the feast of St Nicholas today. Whether or not you put out shoes to be filled, I feel the need for a food item that is about Christmas. So it’s marzipan, because…do you really need a reason when it’s marzipan?
Just as there is a mackerel gene, there must also be a marzipan gene. Indeed, one of the chief proponents that I know of marzipan is my mother – proof.
To be honest, she doesn’t limit to Christmas – an ideal birthday is also one where your nearest and dearest make sure that chocolate covered marzipan makes its way to you. Niederegger, if you can, but just as long as it’s chocolate (oh all right then, dark chocolate, of course) plus marzipan, you’re away.
The reason I think of marzipan as to do with Christmas relates to my early childhood. My grandparents were in Germany at that time, and when I was nearly 2, we visited them at Christmas time. I believe there was something to do with a toy greengrocers as a present, and part of the greengrocers was little crates containing tiny bananas made out of marzipan.
Responding to the genetic marzipan pull, I gather that I fairly demolished them. And that has been my response to marzipan, where offered, ever since. On its own, inside chocolate, formed into lovely Christmas ‘fruit’ decorations, I know what to do.
Not being a great fan of commercial Easter eggs (more of a dark chocolate girl, you see), for a number of years my mum kindly and wisely gave me chocolate covered marzipan instead. No contest. Now I have to buy my own.
In the last couple of years, reading some Jasper Fforde, I was delighted to discover that, in one of his alternative universes (the Dragonslayer one, on this occasion), there were ‘pan-heads’: ie people who got high on eating marzipan. (I also discovered that the great man himself does not like marzipan. I guess no one’s perfect.)
While I don’t actually want to inhale marzipan, I do limit myself, knowing this weakness. It is probably a good job that icing and large amounts of fruit cake are added to Christmas cake, to slow down the ingestion of the marzipan element.
Find a child who picks apart Christmas cake to eat just the icing, and you will find me close by, politely enquiring if they wouldn’t mind passing the marzipan my way. I will obviously eat the cake bit too, but then that’s cake, which equally requires eating.
A few years back, a work trip to Spain brought us close to Toledo, which has rather a thing about marzipan too. I even wrote a blog post about it. We certainly took photos of the shop window, with all kinds of things sculpted out of marzipan: including a model of the local cathedral.
For whatever reason, I wasn’t so keen on their version. Maybe it wasn’t as soft as the commercial marzipan we get in the UK. I ate it, of course, because it was marzipan, but I think on reflection that I like the German marzipan best.
But the other reason for marzipan now emerges: Battenburg cake. I am a huge fan of this. I used to be told off for taking it apart and eating it in sections: first the yellow sponge, then the pink, then (savouring it) the marzipan. If you could get in at the point of it being cut, you might even get an end bit. With even more marzipan.
So I was utterly delighted when a former work colleague of mine not only had the same birthday but also the same sensibilities when it came to Battenburg. It made for a very nice excuse for tea and cake together (with other colleagues too), and with much mutual agreement on the main event.
I also love the older word for it: Marchpane. One day I may even get as far as making some for myself – though it would help to live somewhere where almonds are cheaper.
Till then, I will make do with Christmas cake…oh, and stollen too. And if you do ever find any tiny marzipan bananas – ship some my way.